I was introduced to mindfulness in the traditional way, practicing the skill with set times for doing a body scan, focusing on the breath or focusing on the dreaded raisin, but this never particularly clicked with me.
I didn't like the way I was taught it and I was very unwell at the time and it just didn't make sense. For example, we did a task of pouring a glass of water and drinking it, I was made to feel bad for daring to state that I had to judge how heavy the jug of water was going to be so that I was able to pick it up, I was told that all judgments were bad. This is of course, not the case!
What mindfulness is not:
- A form of relaxation
- New age Buddhist thing
- A way to get rid of thoughts
- A way to sort out your problems
- Hippy nonsense
- A waste of time
- Anti-Christian (or any of faith or religion)
Since I was first introduced to it, I've come a long way and I've come to love elements of mindfulness. I do not sit down and do the formal practice sessions but for me, mindfulness has become a way of life. I try to live mindfully by focusing on what I'm doing in the here and now. How often do we arrive at a destination, having driven there but we have no recollection of the journey? What I do now is concentrate on what I'm doing in the moment, this includes driving but can be applied to any task, from cleaning my teeth to eating to washing up.
What do I mean by "living mindfully"?
I mean I really pay attention to every task I do, I take in the sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes of everything. If I'm brushing my teeth I pay attention to the sound of the water running, the feel of the toothbrush on my gums, the taste and smell of the toothpaste and notice the movement of my wrist and arm as I brush.
Of course, my thoughts wonder all the time, I try to stop this happening but I do not judge myself for struggling to stay focused, if I've got a lot on my mind I'm going to find it hard, this is natural and ok. It's about being gentle with myself, if I find my attention and thoughts straying away, I gentle being myself back to the task in hand.
I hear people saying, "I'm not good at it so I've given up trying", being "no good" is a judgment, it's the judgment that's getting in the way rather than how hard or easy the task is.
The biggest change it's had for me is to stop judging myself. Of course, I still do, I may never be able to break the habit of a lifetime but I do not judge the fact that I judge myself. I know it's unhelpful but if I judge the judging, what's the point in even noticing that it's unhelpful?!
The positive effects mindfulness has had, without this being the "aim":
- I'm more relaxed
- My mind is clearer
- My food tastes better
- I'm a safer driver
- I relish the simple things in life
- I'm more content
- I'm less easily distracted
- I'm more compassionate towards myself
- I know myself better
- I'm more aware of my feelings
- I notice how beautiful the world is
- I accept the things I cannot change
- I forgive easily
- I appreciate new experiences
Fundamentalists may say you need to do the formal practices to gain the fullest benefit from it but I say you have to do what suits you. Maybe I don't know what I'm missing and at some point I'll try the formal practices again but for now living mindfully works for me.